For the last two days, I have been participating in a strategy planning meeting to explore creating a global alliance to end child marriage. More than 70 participants from approximately 20 countries, from the UK to Cameroon to Bangladesh, have converged on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to share research, programs, and advocacy efforts underway to end child marriage. Convened by The Elders, an independent group of eminent global leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela, participants have the opportunity to explore how forging an alliance can not only support current research, programmatic, and advocacy efforts but also provide a platform for garnering increased visibility, awareness, and financial and political commitments for addressing this issue at the local, national, regional, and international levels.
According to the Population Council (link leads to a PDF), if we do not act now, 100 million girls will be married as children in the next ten years, resulting in a host of negative health, social, and economic development outcomes such as maternal mortality, HIV, and lost educational and economic opportunities – which all further fuel the cycle of poverty and undermine current investments in these areas. When a girl is married as a child, often against her will, she endures human rights violations such as forced sex, domestic violence, and the inability to determine the timing and spacing of births. Eradicating child marriage requires country specific and multi-sectoral solutions that involve working with girls, families, communities, and key decision-makers.
I spoke with several colleagues participating in this meeting to learn what their hopes and expectations are for the potential of this alliance. Nadya Khalife, a women’s rights researcher for the Middle East and North Africa region for Human Rights Watch thinks that the formation of this alliance to end child marriage is greatly needed because, “in so far this issue, which has so many consequences on the rights and lives of girls and women, has not received the immense global attention it deserves.”
Emily Courey Pryor of the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up Campaign, is eager to get to work, “this Alliance is an exciting moment for girls, for their freedom and opportunities. An acknowledgement that child marriage exists, that it has negative impacts on girls, families, and communities, and that there are brave individuals and organizations with the solutions to end this practice. The girl supporters of the Girl Up campaign are ready to learn and to advocate for their sisters worldwide.”
Stephanie Sinclair, world renowned photojournalist that has chronicled the lives of child brides for more than eight years finds herself, “encouraged on their behalf that the needs of married children are also being considered by the Alliance. While ending child marriage is certainly a priority, empowering girls already robbed of their childhood is also critical.”
Sike Bille Routh, working in the Extreme North region of Cameroon as co-founder and project chief of the Association de Lutte Contre les Violences Faites aux Femmes (ALVF) believes that “the Alliance must strategically situate itself at the national level, in particular, by supporting the development and adoption of national laws to address violence against women and girls.”
The Elders have brought together a diverse and distinguished group of organizations, foundations, and individuals who are all working on ending child marriage in various ways. What we all share is the commonality of our commitment to upholding the human right of girls to decide if, when, and whom they marry. Now it is incumbent upon all of us to join forces and collaborate, communicate, and implement the strategies needed to reach the largest ever generation of adolescent girls to prevent them from losing out on their education, childhood, and potential to transform their communities, nations, and our world.